Memory Issues
Immune Memory Starts in the Fetus
May 28, 2014 - 3:21:06 PM

( - Fetuses appear to harbor memory T cells, immune cells typically produced in response to infection or disease, a new study reports. They may be there in response to vaccines the mother gets during pregnancy, or little infections she acquires, at which point fetal T cells are exposed to foreign antigens in utero, and learn to recognize them. The findings open the door for exploring how to harness the memory T cell responses for vaccination or for other treatments delivered during pregnancy that could boost the development of T cell memory and antimicrobial responses in newborns. Using multiparametric flow cytometry techniques, Xiaoming Zhang and colleagues found rare memory T cells in fetal cord blood samples. They then isolated and analyzed the T cells using high-throughput sequencing, and observed that among other features, neonatal T cells seem to lack an ability to directly release IL-17, a cytokine molecule associated with inflammation. The researchers think that perhaps the transfer of antibodies from the mother to the fetus, or fetal exposure to commensal microbiota (beneficial bacteria that live in community niches in the body), may mildly activate the immune system to generate memory T cells. These T cells may help prime fetuses for future antimicrobial responses. Studying them may also eventually help scientists better understand the pathogenesis of infectious diseases in young infants. The results also hint that fetal cord blood, a common source of stem cells for bone marrow transplantation, might actually contain reactive T cells. 

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